Friday, December 18, 2015


First off, you can rest easy: J.J. Abrams has not screwed up two major science-fiction movie franchises. Abrams received plenty of well-deserved criticism for 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, and at the time, I noted—as did many other people—that he was probably far better suited for Star Wars. Still, there were detractors who dreaded the notion of Abrams taking on one of the most beloved film series of all time, and were prepared for the worst. Well, it turns out that we who thought Abrams was a good pick for the job were absolutely correct.

Abrams slips into the Star Wars universe with remarkable ease, presenting a continuation of the saga that feels like a natural outgrowth of what has come before. That shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, considering that he collaborated on the script with Lawrence Kasdan, co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. (Kasdan, of course, also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Big Chill, and Body Heat, among other things—no lightweight there.)

Knowing that many people reading this do not want to know anything about the movie going in, I’ll just describe it this way:
It takes place about 30 years after Return of the Jedi. An organization called the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire, seeking to overthrow the New Republic and take over the galaxy. They face opposition from the Resistance, a group of warriors supported by the Republic. Both sides are trying to determine the whereabouts of a now-almost-mythical figure who played a key role in the rebellion against the Empire. One side wants this person dead, the other hopes to lure the living legend back into action.

As the conflict rages, new characters are drawn in, most notably Rey (Daisy Ridley), a lonely girl living as a scavenger on the desert planet Jakku, and Finn (John Boyega), a young stormtrooper for the First Order who starts to question whether he’s fighting for the right side. There is also Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a skilled Resistance pilot on a top-secret mission to acquire information of the utmost importance, accompanied by his one-0f-a-kind, amusingly clever droid BB-8, who resembles a beach ball with R2-D2’s domed head stuck on top. Naturally their paths will cross.

On the other side of the fence, the Nazi-like General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) is allied with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a mysterious masked figure dressed entirely in black who is apparently trying to model himself after the long-departed Darth Vader. They both answer to the imposing Supreme Leader Snoke (a CGI character voiced by Andy Serkis), who seems to take some of his cues from Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine of the previous two trilogies.

The film would have been engaging enough with just these new faces. But the icing on the cake is the return of beloved characters from the first three movies, most notably Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). (What about Luke Skywalker? After all, Mark Hamill’s name is on the poster! Well, it’s not for me to say.) It is truly a kick to see the new characters interacting with the “classic” ones, and longtime fans should be quite pleased with the attention that is lavished on one particular member of the old guard.

The first act is terrific, skillfully setting up the new characters and the new status quo with minimal exposition. I particularly liked the fact that Abrams and Kasdan did away with the stiff, stilted, lifeless dialogue and the overly mannered performances that had become a hallmark of the series while under the guidance of George Lucas, starting with Jedi and really coming to the fore with the three prequels. Rey, Finn, and especially Poe are written as real people, who speak to and relate to one another as actual human beings. 

I do feel that the film drags a bit in the middle, meandering and drifting in between key plot points. However, some new and interesting characters are introduced during this section. In particular, there’s Maz Kanata, an amusing CGI creation voiced by Lupita Nyong’o, who I hope we’ll see again in the future. 

And yet, there’s an undeniable lack of real originality on display here, with numerous callbacks to moments and even plot threads from the original three movies. I won’t get into them here, you’ll see for yourself. Also, while I have not read every Star Wars novel published over the last 25 years, I’ve read enough to recognize concepts, plot points, character arcs, and even character types in The Force Awakens that have already been explored extensively in print. To be fair, with dozens upon dozens of Star Wars novels published since 1991, supposedly depicting what happened in the years following Return of the Jedi, it was inevitable for this movie to tread upon the same ground, at least partially. Still, I couldn’t help but feel as I was watching the film that I had seen some of this stuff played out already. But it’s also true that the vast majority of people going to see this movie have not read many—or any—of those now-decanonized novels, so it will all seem brand new and original to them.    

What the film lacks in true originality it makes up for in the performances. Abrams cast this movie brilliantly. This is a star-making turn for Daisy Ridley in particular. She gives one of the very best acting performances I’ve ever seen in a Star Wars movie, if not the best. She gets to do here what Natalie Portman was never allowed to do in the prequels—namely, portray a multi-dimensional, interesting, truly human character that audiences can really embrace. Ridley is energetic, captivating, and riveting—you can’t take your eyes off of her.

John Boyega is simply terrific. You sympathize with his character right away, and it doesn’t hurt that he gets some of the funniest moments. Boyega has a real flair for comedy, and his expressive face very effectively conveys the fear, anger, concern, and compassion that his character feels throughout the film.

As Poe Dameron, Oscar Isaac is filled with charm and charisma. It’s not a huge part, but it is an important one, and Isaac makes an indelible mark. 

BB-8 is a delight. Before seeing the film, I was worried that this droid character was going to be another lame attempt to appeal to the kiddies, like the Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks. Not so. BB-8 is very much to The Force Awakens what R2-D2 was to the original Star Wars. (R2 shows up in the new film too, of course.)      

As for Harrison Ford, who once seemed like he would never agree to appear in another Star Wars movie—all I’ll say is, he looks great and his performance here is notably better than it was in Return of the Jedi. Ford truly seems pleased to be back as Han Solo. The fact that the role is actually well-written this time helps a lot, it would seem. Make no mistake, this is not an extended cameo appearance. Ford is one of the main stars of the film, and his contributions are invaluable.

Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren does not have the stature or the imposing menace that Darth Vader had from the moment we first saw him in the original Star Wars. That may well be by design. I have a feeling that the goal is to build up his character over the next two movies, so that we can watch the progression and the challenges that he goes through as he develops into a major, truly fearsome menace.

The only character that I felt didn’t come off as well as I would have liked is See Threepio. Anthony Daniels, who has played the character in all seven films, has now given the droid a significantly higher-pitched, almost childlike voice that I found both inconsistent with past performances and a bit distracting.

Without a doubt, The Force Awakens is the offspring of the original trilogy—and only the original trilogy. I can’t think of one moment where the prequels are acknowledged in any way. And even then, the new film seems to embrace Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back far more than it does Return of the Jedi, at least in terms of tone, mood, and execution. Yes, there is humor and lightheartedness. There is a wide variety of alien beings on display. But there are no cutesy or ridiculous-looking creatures shoved in gratuitously just to sell toys to little kids. There are no sight gags with characters stepping into a pile of poop. There are no farts or burps. It doesn’t go for cheap laughs, or pander to the lowest common denominator (or the youngest members of the audience).

It is not a perfect film. I feel there are some plot problems. One of them is the fact that certain characters are shown to be highly skilled with a lightsaber, despite the fact that they have apparently never held one before. (True, Luke was a complete novice in Star Wars, yet was able to go toe-to-toe with Vader in Empire. But Luke had a huge block of time between those two films to teach himself saber-fighting, plus he received training from Yoda. There’s no such training or time for learning in the new film. So there!)

Out of the seven films, I would place The Force Awakens at #4, behind Empire, Star Wars, and, yes, Revenge of the Sith. Sorry, I liked that one a lot, and for me, it still holds up after repeated viewings. 

More than anything else, The Force Awakens is a strong foundation for future films. It does a good job setting up the rest of the new trilogy, and, much like The Empire Strikes Back, it ends with a number of balls still in the air, to keep audiences tantalized—and talking—for the next couple of years.

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2015.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


If you missed the first two installments of this monthlong series, they’re here and here. Now let’s dive into a more recent release…  

Maggie (2015)

This does not come close to being the scariest zombie film ever made, but it just may be the saddest. It’s a very atypical film for this genre, in that it eschews most of the horror elements in favor of focusing on the core relationship between a father and his teenage daughter, and the awful options left in front of them after the girl is bitten by one of the living dead.

Speaking of atypical, while Arnold Schwarzenegger is the star of the film, you could hardly call it “an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.” The qualities that made Schwarzenegger so indelible to our collective consciousness in films like Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, Predator, and Total Recall, are completely absent here. For the first time in his career, he is playing a role that could easily have been filled by someone like Kevin Costner, Gary Sinise, or Matthew McConaughey. Schwarzenegger plays Wade Vogel, a strong, reserved farmer and loving family man in the American heartland, coping with the outbreak of a zombie plague that is slowly destroying society. Wade is married to Caroline, played by Joely Richardson. She’s his second wife—his first died a number of years ago. His eldest child, Maggie, played by Abigail Breslin, is the product of his first marriage. With Caroline, he has two young children, a boy and a girl.

The film begins with Maggie having already been bitten by a zombie. She’s run away to keep her family safe, and implored her father not to look for her. But Wade does it anyway, and insists on bringing her home. It’s important to note that the film rewrites the “zombie apocalypse rules” to a certain extent, in the sense once you’re bitten, it can take several weeks for you to succumb and join the ranks of the walking dead. It also seems to take a page from Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, in that you have to die of a zombie bite to come back as a zombie. (This puts it in contrast with the George A. Romero movies and The Walking Dead comics and TV series, in which it’s established that no matter how you die, you’re coming back as a flesh-eating ghoul.)

Maggie’s homecoming puts a strain on the whole family. As her condition deteriorates, her stepmother Caroline becomes increasingly afraid of her, and worries about the safety of the other children in the house. Meanwhile, local law enforcement officers tasked with rounding up the infected and bringing them to quarantine—where they will be observed and eventually exterminated—keep coming around to implore Wade to turn Maggie over to them, for the sake of the rest of the community. Wade refuses, insisting that he will never let his daughter go to quarantine. But his options are extremely—and tragically—limited.

It’s not hyperbole to say that you’ve never seen Arnold Schwarzenegger like this before. He’s not the all-powerful, sure-to-come-out-on-top heroic figure here. There are no confident smirks or catchphrase one-liners in the vein of “I’ll be back” or “Consider it a divorce.” He is startlingly human and vulnerable in this role—just a regular man caught in devastating circumstances. He is not much different from any parent having to cope with the fact that their child has advanced cancer or AIDS. As Wade,  Schwarzenegger faces an unthinkable situation, the most horrible of all: The fact that he will outlive his child. 

Abigail Breslin, whose resume includes Little Miss Sunshine and Zombieland, turns in fine work here, particularly as Maggie’s condition worsens and she reconnects with old friends. Her scenes with Schwarzenegger are especially touching. They work very well together.

Maggie is a quiet, subtle, slowly paced film, but emotionally powerful, especially if you’re a parent. There’s a moment right near the end that still makes me tear up, just thinking about it.

If you’re a gorehound, look elsewhere. But if you want a different perspective on the zombie plague genre, one that focuses exclusively on the emotional toll such an outbreak takes on both the victims and their loved ones, Maggie is definitely worth checking out.    

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2015.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Picking up where I left off last time, I continue my effort to review at least one horror movie per week. This week, the spotlight is on…  

Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane (2007)

The title pretty much spells out the whole thing. This is worthy of the channel now known as SyFy—which means it’s a total piece of crap. 

The central premise is intriguing enough, and in the hands of someone like a young George A. Romero, this would probably be a pretty decent movie. In fact, the recently launched TV series Fear the Walking Dead is doing a run of “mini episodes,” available online, that has the same basic premise: Passengers on an airplane are faced with the sudden spread of an apocalyptic zombie plague—in a very confined space. As critical as I have been of Fear, I’m fairly confident the people behind it will do a much better job with the concept than the crew responsible for this waste of time and effort.    

The stock characters range from one-dimensional to underdeveloped to thoroughly unlikable. The sets look cheap. The special effects aren’t fully convincing. And the tone is all over the place—the film can’t decide if it’s a comedy or a straight horror film. If it’s meant to be a comedy, it’s not funny. And if it’s meant to be a horror film, it’s not the slightest bit scary. In the end, it adds nothing to either genre. There’s not one original idea on display here. It was apparently a quickie made to cash in on all of the hype surrounding the film Snakes on a Plane, which came out around the same time and itself turned out to be not much of anything.

A bald zombie doing his best "Heath Ledger as the Joker" impression

The only people I recognized in the cast were Dale Midkiff (Pet Semetary), Richard Tyson (Kindergarten Cop, Two Moon Junction), and Raymond J. Barry (the terrific, recently concluded TV series Justified). 

Raymond J. Barry (center) is the only cast member whose career actually improved after this movie. 

Not that you need a “name cast” for a movie like this—you don’t. All you need are well developed, multi-dimensional characters that are played with nuance and realism. Which is exactly what you don’t get here. 

You probably weren’t thinking about watching this movie anyway, but on the slim chance that you were, my advice is: AVOID.

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2015.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


I tried this once before, back in 2012: To watch at least one horror movie per week and then write about it here. Because, as many of you know, Halloween is probably my favorite holiday. 

But things didn’t go quite as planned. Basically, a lot of stuff came up—including me attending the debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney at Hofstra University—and I ended up bailing out on my “Month of Halloween” idea after the first week. But now I’m giving it another try. Not nearly as ambitious as the annual one-movie-a-day project that my dear friend Steve Bunche once again has underway at his blog, but this should be fun nonetheless. And away we go…

Fright Night Part 2 (1988)

I loved the original Fright Night, which came out in 1985. It was a good mixture of horror and comedy with likable characters, strong performances, genuine subtext about sexual identity and the agonies of adolescence, and excellent special effects. Amidst the increasingly silly Freddy Krueger films and the seemingly endless stream of mind-numbing, soul-killing Friday the 13th movies, Fright Night stood out as sincere, smart, well-crafted, and downright fun. 

You could tell it was a labor of love for writer/director Tom Holland. He genuinely respected the horror genre and avoided portraying the characters as one-dimensional, perpetually horny imbeciles. He did a fine job utilizing the lesser known tenets of vampire lore (a vampire can’t enter someone’s home if not invited in by the owner; you have to have faith in the religious object that you’re using to protect yourself from one of the undead). And in the midst of it all, he paid affectionate tribute to the wonderfully cheesy horror-movie TV hosts, such as Zacherley, that many of us remember from our childhoods. 

Holland put together a very strong cast: Chris Sarandon had probably the best role of his career as centuries-old vampire Jerry Dandridge; William Ragsdale, who would go on to star in the FOX sitcom Herman’s Head and recently played a recurring character in the fantastic FX series Justified, made a strong impression as Charley Brewster, a teenager who discovers that a vampire has moved into the house next door; Amanda Bearse, best known for her role as Marcy on the long-running series Married… With Children, played Charley’s virginal girlfriend Amy, who finds herself targeted by Dandridge; Stephen Geoffreys, playing Charley’s oddball friend “Evil” Ed, was one of the biggest highlights of the film, providing lots of laughs and a real sense of pathos (in a shocking real-life twist, Geoffreys ended up performing in hardcore gay porn films in the 1990s); and Roddy McDowall, already an icon thanks to his memorable work in the Planet of the Apes franchise, attracted a whole new generation of fans with his absolutely wonderful performance as Peter Vincent, a washed-up actor reduced to hosting old horror movies on a local TV station. 

The film was a hit, and is remembered fondly by genre fans to this day—it was even remade recently with Colin Farrell in the Chris Sarandon role. (Though the remake did not fare nearly as well at the box office.) 

And then there’s Fright Night Part 2. It’s an underrated film, better than its reputation would suggest. It’s eminently watchable, competently made, and has strong production values. But it’s nowhere near as good as the original.

For one thing, it’s more of a retread than a sequel. Aside from bringing in Jerry Dandridge’s sister Regine (played by Julie Carmen) to get revenge on Charley for destroying her brother, this film basically replicates the plot of the original, with a few minor twists here and there. 

Julie Carmen as the night-stalking Regine

Ragsdale, returning as Charley, does get the opportunity to bring some maturity and added depth to the role. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Roddy McDowall. He’s back as Peter Vincent, and he plays the part as effectively as ever, but he’s forced to just repeat himself. The script doesn’t develop his character any further than what we saw previously. We learn nothing new about him, he has no real story arc, and there’s no sense of resolution for his character at the end. 

Fright Night Part 2 has some major handicaps. Tom Holland is nowhere to be found. Ditto Amanda Bearse and Stephen Geoffreys—their characters are mentioned but they’re both MIA without any explanation. Geoffreys’s absence is particularly disappointing, given the ending of the original film. (Apparently, he was asked to return but declined.) 

Ragsdale and McDowall welcome some new blood.  

With new writers (Tommy Lee Wallace, Tim Metcalfe, and Miguel Tejada-Flores) and a new director (Wallace), the film really only regurgitates what we’d already seen in the original film. It doesn’t delve any deeper. Regine is motivated solely by revenge and once that’s established, there’s absolutely no further development of her character—a sharp contrast to Sarandon’s Jerry, who was very multi-layered. Ultimately, Fright Night Part 2 proves to be a spectacularly unnecessary film. The original movie was a story that its writer/director very much wanted to tell, and he told it with a strong voice and vision. There is simply no compelling reason for the sequel to exist. It’s just product, produced by other people who were only able to follow what was done before, instead of truly innovate. 

And yet, the film has its virtues. There are some clever and witty bits here and there. Traci Lin, who’s absolutely beautiful, turns in a strong performance as Charley’s new girlfriend, Alex. 

Traci Lin, where are you now?

Julie Carmen is undeniably sexy, sultry, and menacing. Her posse of undead irregulars includes some colorful characters, including Brian Thompson (who played the shapeshifting alien bounty hunter in many episodes of The X-Files) as an insect-eating hulk and Jonathan Gries as a clumsy doofus who prefers to turn into a wolf instead of a bat. And the film marks the last screen appearance of actor Merritt Butrick, who died, apparently of AIDS, a short time after filming. Butrick, who made his screen debut in 1982 as Admiral James T. Kirk’s son Dr. David Marcus in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, plays Charley’s college buddy Richie, who unwittingly gets involved with Regine and her sinister crowd. 

The film barely got a theatrical release in 1989, so most people didn’t even know of its existence. (It gained something of a cult following once it came out on VHS.) It’s currently not available on DVD or Blu-ray, but it pops up every now and then on the premium-cable movie channels. It’s certainly worth checking out, especially if you liked the original. Just keep your expectations low and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2015.

Sunday, May 3, 2015


Without a doubt, Avengers: Age of Ultron delivers on action, adventure, characterization, and wit. It’s probably a little less “new-user friendly” than its 2012 predecessor, which means key story points may end up confusing some in the audience who aren’t particularly acclimated to Marvel Comics-style storytelling. But once again, writer-director Joss Whedon does an impressive job balancing spectacle with small moments, delivering a movie that makes you care about all of the members of the dysfunctional superhero team—even the CGI ones.

Set a few years after The Avengers, we discover right off the bat that the team has gotten back together to take on the remnants of Hydra, the evil organization that had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and brought about its downfall in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier (which may well be the greatest superhero movie ever made—it’s certainly Marvel’s best thus far). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is along for the ride to recover the Staff of Loki, which has fallen into the hands of Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), Hydra’s current leader. Strucker is using the staff in his experiments to create super-powered humans he can control. Thus far, only two subjects have survived the experiments: “The Twins,” more formally known as Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively). During the showdown with Hydra’s forces, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) gets a taste of Wanda’s mind-control powers and experiences a horrifying vision of the future, one that compels him to complete his secret project: Ultron, an Artificial Intelligence program that would protect Earth from otherworldly threats and perhaps even render the Avengers unnecessary. Working with fellow scientist Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Stark forges ahead, using an unorthodox power source that leads to the successful launch of Ultron . . . who immediately builds himself a towering, invulnerable robot body—with countless spares—and promptly decides that humanity has had its day and must be wiped out of existence. 

That’s about all I can tell you without getting into spoiler territory. Suffice to say there’s a lot going on in the film. Some might even say there’s too much going on. Certainly the plot is not as streamlined or as straightforward as that of the original Avengers movie. But there is a deepening of the characters that is wonderful to watch. Downey’s Stark is even more arrogant and self-righteous now. Ruffalo’s Banner has become so fearful of the destruction he can cause as the Hulk—and as seen briefly in the trailers, he’s absolutely right to be afraid—that he dismisses the notion of ever finding happiness, of ever falling in love again. 

Which is a bummer for Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), because she’s developed a real affection for the mild-mannered scientist—and she may now be the only person on Earth who can calm the big green guy down. Captain America (Chris Evans) is doing a fine job leading the team, but after discovering in The Winter Soldier that he couldn’t trust many of his colleagues in S.H.I.E.L.D., he fears that he’s living that experience all over again when he learns of Stark’s secret activities. 

Of all the Avengers, the one who probably gets the most attention is Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)—perhaps Whedon was trying to make it up to Renner for giving his character such a limited role in the original film. We are given a glimpse into Barton’s civilian life that surprised even this lifelong comic-book reader and former Marvel staffer.  

Other denizens of the Marvel Cinematic Universe show up in supporting roles, most notably Cobie Smulders as former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and current Avengers ally Maria Hill, Idris Elba as Heimdall and Stellan Skarsgard as Dr. Erik Selvig (both from the Thor movies), Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine (from the Iron Man movies), and Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/the Falcon (introduced in The Winter Soldier). Expect to see more—a lot more—of these last two.  

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen are fine additions to the cast. There’s nice chemistry between them, perhaps owing to the fact that they played husband and wife in last year’s Godzilla. As Pietro (whose codename, Quicksilver, is never uttered onscreen), Taylor-Johnson exudes much of the arrogance of his comic-book counterpart. Note that Evan Peters played the same character in last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, though it was a completely different interpretation—and, I must say, Peters’s version was more fun. But Whedon does something with Pietro that should raise plenty of eyebrows, among both longtime fans and the uninitiated. Olsen’s Wanda (codenamed the Scarlet Witch, also a name never used in the film) displays both menace and vulnerability. My only real quibble is that her powers are not fully explained, other than the fact that she can manipulate minds and move objects without touching them. But it seems there’s more to them than that. I did appreciate the fact that the siblings both speak with European accents, which is only appropriate, given their backstory. 

I also have to mention the Vision, played by Paul Bettany, who has voiced Tony Stark’s “Jarvis” AI program since the first Iron Man movie in 2008. Here, we finally get to see Bettany in the flesh (with a lot of CG assistance), as a highly advanced android developed by Ultron. The Vision doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but he’s used extremely well and I took an instant liking to him. It’s actually quite remarkable just how quickly and easily he fits in to the storyline and how well he meshes with the other characters. 

As for the title villain, James Spader, in a motion-capture and voice performance, delivers all of the creepiness, superiority, and contempt for others that you would expect and want from him. I’ve only read a handful of the many comic-book stories in which Ultron has appeared, and the character never made much of an impression on me, but the movie version is fun, and sometimes, quite funny. However, I think it would have worked better and would have been more dramatic if he had been a bit more of a blank slate at first—an AI program that observes humanity for a little while, that poses no threat and seems to be working exactly as intended, thus giving Stark and Banner an initial feeling of victory and success. But then, as a result of its observations and interactions with humans, Ultron would come to decide that we need to be exterminated. As presented in the film, Ultron comes to that conclusion right away, so there’s no real arc for the character. He’s a threat pretty much from moment one, and as such, he’s a bit too one-dimensional. As of now, Loki remains the top Marvel Movie Villain, and it doesn’t seem like that will be changing anytime soon.   

I must also note that Whedon goes out of his way to show the Avengers taking the time and making the effort to protect and rescue as many innocent bystanders as possible. I can’t help but think this is a sly little stab at Warner Brothers, who, in 2013’s Man of Steel, depicted Superman—Superman, of all characters—never once showing any concern for the people of Metropolis as he engages in a skyscraper-toppling battle with General Zod that surely killed thousands. Clearly, Whedon believes it’s important to have heroes who can truly inspire hope. Good on him.     

There’s a bit of an Empire Strikes Back feel to Age of Ultron, especially at the conclusion, where several plot threads are left unresolved and a new status quo is put in place. With the steady flow of Marvel movies coming over the next few years, featuring many of these characters and leading up to the third and fourth Avengers films, it won’t be too long of a wait to find out what happens next. Given Marvel’s track record thus far, it should continue to be a fun ride. Fun, and at times, as with The Winter Soldier, downright spectacular. Age of Ultron doesn’t quite surpass The Avengers, but it stands tall among the Marvel films and is a fitting end of one era and an intriguing start of a new one. Be sure to stick around during the end credits, during which you’ll get a brief tease of what’s to come.   

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2015.

Friday, February 27, 2015

LEONARD NIMOY (1931-2015)

February 27, 2015 didn’t start off as a damned sad day, but it surely became one, once the news got out that Leonard Nimoy had passed away. For those of you who know me, it is very obvious why this news hit me fairly hard. But beyond the obvious, I am finding that in a very small way, it’s like losing my father all over again. They were the same age, born within a few weeks of each other, and Star Trek has been such an important part of my life since I was very young. So as much as I have been thinking about Leonard Nimoy, and what he has meant to me, I find myself also thinking about my dad, now gone nearly two years.  

I was interviewed earlier today by the radio station at Hofstra University and asked to provide some comments, because of my (albeit limited) connection to Star Trek—as many of you know, I wrote a series of Star Trek comics for Marvel back in the late 1990s, in which I was able to put my lifelong love for the franchise into some character-driven stories that I really wanted to tell. In answering, I said that the passing of Leonard Nimoy signifies the true end of the original era of Star Trek. More than anyone, even William Shatner, Nimoy was the face, the voice, and the soul of Star Trek. With just a few exceptions, he appeared in every single iteration of Star Trek ever produced: The original pilot, starring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike; the second pilot, which introduced Shatner’s Captain James T. Kirk; the entire original television series; the animated series; the first six movies; two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation; and, most recently, the two reboot Star Trek films directed by J.J. Abrams. I would say that pretty much debunks the notion that he hated Star Trek and the Spock character, wouldn’t you?

Upon hearing earlier this week that his health had taken a turn for the worse, my first thought was that I really truly hoped that he would at least live to see the 50th anniversary of the franchise that he was so instrumental in building. And, if the rumors circulating several months ago were accurate, that he would be able to share the screen with Shatner one last time, in the next Star Trek movie. But it was not to be. Time—and nature—had other plans. 

Leonard Nimoy and his work have played a key role and have been a major influence on me throughout my life, and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so for the rest of my days.

I thought I would end this with something of a treat. This is the closest I ever got to Leonard Nimoy. It was June 22, 1985, in New York City, at a Star Trek convention in what at the time was called the Penta Hotel (now the Hotel Pennsylvania). Mr. Nimoy was the guest of honor. He had recently been announced as the director of Star Trek IV (the subtitle had yet to be revealed). I had set up camp as close to the stage as I possibly could, but my camera was so primitive that I knew I wasn’t going to get good shots of him unless I moved closer. I practically had to climb over this really annoying heavy-set kid—and nearly got my rear end kicked—to get close enough to get some decent shots. These two were the ones that came out the best. Nimoy’s shirt says “Star Trek IV in ’86.”

Photo by Glenn Greenberg (1985)

Photo by Glenn Greenberg (1985)

Not much else to say, other than: Godspeed, Leonard Nimoy. We will always... remember

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2015.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Sorry Ive been away for such a long time. Between my full-time job, a freelance gig writing an original X-Files story for an upcoming prose anthology, and starting graduate school—Im going for a Master's degree in Creative Writing—Ive been more busy than usual since the end of last summer.

But with Saturday Night Live having begun its 40th season, and the three-and-a-half-hour special airing tonight on NBC, I realized I had enough thoughts about the show as a whole to jot them down in a list and use it to get back into the blogging waters. 

Overall, while I’m impressed that it’s lasted for so long, I have no great love for Saturday Night Live, especially these days. Its gone through rough patches before, certainly worse slumps than the show is in now. But I think the most frustrating thing is knowing that there's genuine talent putting the show together, and yet there is still so much garbage that gets on the air. After 40 years, the show is still far too erratic in quality, it's filled with missed opportunities, and the writing is often lazy, dumb, and uninspired. And in recent years, the musical performances have become too reliant on pre-recorded tracks and vocals—thus demonstrating just how untalented todays music stars are compared to those of decades past. 

And yet... when the show is firing on all cylinders, its a joy to watch.

So here are my thoughts. Feel free to contribute your own in the Comments section.

Favorite Cast Member: Phil Hartman

From Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton to Frank Sinatra to Phil Donahue to the Anal-Retentive Chef to the totally-obscure-but hilarious Giant Businessman, it seemed like there was nothing he couldn’t do. Even when a sketch was bombing, he was almost always the best thing about it, and always managed to maintain his dignity. I think I enjoyed watching Phil Hartman more than any other cast member in the show's history.

Favorite Host: Alec Baldwin

No matter how bad a season is on the whole, if Baldwin is hosting, I have to watch. And I'm rarely disappointed.

Favorite Sketch: A two-way tie—
The Sinatra Group,” starring Phil Hartman as Frank Sinatra, Sting as Billy Idol, Chris Rock as Luther Campbell, Jan Hooks as Sinead O'Connor, Mike Myers as Steve Lawrence, and Victoria Jackson as Eydie Gorme—here's just a taste:


And “Carl Sagan’s Global Warming Christmas Special,” starring Mike Myers as Carl Sagan, Tom Hanks as Dean Martin, Jan Hooks as Crystal Gayle, Phil Hartman as Isaac Asimov, Dana Carvey as Paul McCartney, and Chris Farley as Dom DeLuise

Favorite Weekend Update Anchor(s): Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon

I enjoyed their chemistry, and the fact that they genuinely seemed to love with that they were doing, and that they were doing it together.

Least Favorite Weekend Update Anchor(s): Seth Meyers

Never liked this guy, never found him funny, always found him exceedingly smug, arrogant, and self-satisfied—not just on Weekend Update. In ANYTHING he appeared in. 

Cast Member Who Started Off Okay But Got Really Annoying Really Quickly and Became Overexposed to the Point of Absurdity: Kristen Wiig

She’s undeniably very attractive, and had some genuinely good moments when she first got on the show (her Megan Mullally impression was hilarious) but given her overall limited range and her abundance of awful characters (Gilly? The Target Lady? Aunt Linda? Judy Grimes?), I figure Executive Producer Lorne Michaels was madly in love with her, or she had photos of him with a goat. In her last few seasons, you would think there were no other women in the cast. 

Favorite Unscripted Moment:
The camera catches Ian Mckellen sitting on the side of the stage, bopping away joyfully, as Kylie Minogue performs “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”

All-Time Least Talented Cast Member: Horatio Sanz

Couldn’t do decent impressions of the celebrities he played, couldn’t read off the cue cards convincingly, couldn’t get through sketches without cracking himself up, always came off as woefully underrehearsed. It’s a show-business crime that he was on the show for as long as he was.    

Most Successful Cast Member With the Least Amount of Talent: Adam Sandler 

I enjoyed one—and only one—sketch this guy starred in: “The Denise Show,” in which he played a guy with a talk show in which he would spend the whole time talking about his ex-girlfriend Denise, then calling her and hanging up, and then he would call her new boyfriend and tell him in a threatening voice, “I'm gonna kill you.” That was pretty funny. He went on to make a string of some truly moronic movies that somehow became big hits. More power to him—but I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan.

Most Talented Cast Member Whose Talents Were Wasted on SNL: Chris Rock 

I thought this guy was a real waste of space... until I saw his 1996 HBO comedy special “Bring the Pain,” and I realized that he was one of the best stand-up comedians the world has ever seen.

Favorite Musical Performance: Paul Simon and George Harrison duet on “Here Comes the Sun” and “Homeward Bound”

Stayed With the Show Far Too Long: Tim Meadows

It was starting to get a bit sad.

Didn’t Stay With the Show Long Enough: Chevy Chase

This is a no-brainer. Even HE admits it now.

Should STILL Be On the Show: Martin Short

This is based on his absolutely STELLAR appearance hosting the December 15, 2012 episode. I’ve watched it at least four times. He killed in every sketch. This man is a comedy treasure.

Never Performed on SNL, Surprisingly Enough: The Who, or any member of the Who

You would think they would have by now, given that the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, three ex-Beatles, and Eric Clapton all turned up at one time or another.  

Performed on SNL, But Probably Shouldn’t Have: Brian Wilson

Oy vey. Happily, Brian is doing MUCH better these days.

Never Appeared or Performed on SNL, But Probably Would Have Eventually: John Lennon

All the other ex-Beatles made memorable appearances on the show, so it’s unthinkable that John would not have shown up eventually. Unfortunately, he probably would not have come alone:

All-Time Most Valuable Player: Eddie Murphy

He practically single-handedly saved the show when it came closest to being cancelled, during the disastrous 1980-1981 season. His “James Brown Celebrity Hot Tub” sketch still cracks me up. 

Cast Member With the Most Impressive Career After Leaving the Show: Bill Murray

Ghostbusters. Rushmore. Lost in Translation. Groundhog Day. Quick Change. Kingpin. Zombieland. Saying no—repeatedly—to Ghostbusters III, thus ensuring it would never see the light of day. Need I go on?    

Most Notorious Guest Host, in Retrospect: O.J. Simpson

Hosted the show on February 25, 1978 — “Uh... LOOK OUT!”

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2015.